Paradox of Communism in Kashmir

The Communist revolution started in 1917 in Soviet Russia. Ever since then, communists have been working hard to preach and propagate their ideology throughout the world. Gradually they set up organizations, with members in almost every country of the world. By the 1970s, more than a third of the world’s population lived in Communist states.

They penetrated and preached their ideology in Kashmir too. K A Abbas, a veteran communist ideologue and writer in an interview with Kashmiri writer Z G Mohammad in 1984 said, “We saw Kashmir as the laboratory for socialist ideology”.  Jagan Nath Sathu in his pamphlet “Red Menace in Kashmir” writes, communists always worked hard in Kashmir and were making strong Russian base”.

As per writer, journalist, author and former minister of erstwhile J&K state Peer Gyassuddin in his book “Jammu and Kashmir state and society, Communist in Kashmir”, “Communists started working since 1936, they worked close with National conference and had members in the party”. Communist leaders like K M Ashraf, B P L Bedi, Fazal Elahi Qurban, Ajoy Ghosh and others regularly visit Kashmir for their agenda. K M Ashraf visited Kashmir in 1937 and inaugurated a “Broad-based student organization” at Nehru Park in which Marxist literature especially Lenin’s biography was distributed.

In 1941, when Nazi Germany attacked the Soviet Union, Kashmiri communists started an anti-fascist front with G M Sadiq who later became chief minister of J&K and known for the erosion of autonomy as President and Peer Gyassuddin as a convener.

In 1942, G M Sadiq represented Kashmir in the annual function of the Communist Party of India’s student body All India Student Federation. In 1942, communist leader Fazl Elahi Qurban visited Kashmir. He started the communist study circle and anti-fascist school in a houseboat and also distributed Marxist literature.

The two important members of the group were Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad and G.M Sadiq who later became Prime minister and chief minister of J&K state respectively. Noted Kashmiri Marxist N N Raina had even started a communist book shop called “New Kashmir Book shop” and started a communist paper called “Azad” in Kashmir.

When the ruler of Kashmir, Maharaja Hari Singh returned from Britain after attending the imperial war council. Sheikh Abdullah and National Conference made a memorandum and future constitution “Naya Kashmir”. It was drafted by noted communist B.P.L Bedi and his wife Freda Bedi. Noted author and journalist “Rasheed Taseer” in “Tehreeki Hurriyat e Kashmir” writes that the idea of Naya Kashmir was born when K.M. Ashraf had come from Soviet Union to Srinagar.

Prof. Manzoor Fazili in his book “Socialist Ideas and movement in Kashmir” writes that, “Naya Kashmir was in essence and content socialist” and as per Josef Korbel in “Danger in Kashmir”, “Naya Kashmir was inspired by communist ideas and was a plan by communists to make Kashmir first state in India to be a communist state”.

Sheikh Abdullah himself writes in the Naya Kashmir, “In our times, Soviet Russian has demonstrated before our eyes, not merely theoretically but in her actual day-to-day life and developed that real freedom takes birth only from economic emancipation”. 

After this event, communists supported Sheikh Abdullah’s Quit Kashmir movement. The hero of the Quit Kashmir movement, Ghulam Mohiuddin Karra was hiding at the house of Bedi’s, when Sheikh Abdullah invited British communist leader Rajme Palme Dutt to visit Kashmir. Dutt was on a visit to India to guide Indian communists.

Author Andrew Whitehead in his chapter in “ The People’s Militia- Communist and Kashmir’s Nationalism in the 1940’s” published in an edited volume “Partition- The long shadow” by Urvashi Butalia writes that”  Rajme Palme Dutt had given statement that “People’s movement of Kashmir is the strongest and most militant of any Indian state and had highly praised Sheikh Abdullah in his Labour monthly”.

During this time, he even attended Sheikh’s trial. Even, the then Communist party of India Gen. Secretary P C Joshi described “Sheikh as the wisest and the tallest among the state people’s leaders”. CPI praised militia as the “first women’s militia in South Asia”.

Among the women pioneers were Miss Mehmooda Ali Shah, Begum Zainab, Usha Kashyap and others. Miss Mehmooda Ali Shah later went on to support the ruthless and authoritarianism of Indira Gandhi’s emergency.

Communist Movement in Kashmir: The Inconsistent Years

Journalist Praful Bidwai in his book “The Phoenix Movement- challenges confronting the Indian Left”, writes how the Communist Party of India took a series of inconsistent positions. How they first welcomed the accession of the state to India, called the Indian army’s march-the march of democratic forces and also dubbed the creation of the Pakistan nation state reactionary.

He condemned the Nehruvian Kashmir policy by forcing Sheikh Abdullah into a heinous crime and later to accede to India. Then again, how did they condemn the so-called tribal incursion and attributed the Kashmir crisis to the aggressive designs of the Anglo-American imperialistic bloc? Political activist and author Balraj Puri in his book “Communism In Kashmir” quotes statements of the Communist Party of India,(CPI) during this event like how the CPI stood for the “accession of Kashmir to India.”  

CPI took the Indian position on Kashmir, not the Right to Self Determination which communists are known for. CPI leader Ajoy Ghosh writes in a foreword of “Kashmir and its future” on February 25, 1955: “Wholehearted support to the limited accession which Kashmir has made to India……will enormously strengthen the democratic forces in Kashmir.”

On 23 March 1959, CPI gave this statement to New Age “To deny that Kashmir is part of India is to deny India’s sovereignty over rightful Indian territory and to stick on the march of Mountbatten award.”  

CPI didn’t talk or took any position on the Poonch revolt which had its genesis in feudalism and Jammu massacre in which more than two lakh Muslims were killed. Pakistani Marxist theorist and author Comrade Lal Khan in his book “Kashmir’s ordeal-A Revolutionary Way Out” writes that “Some 60000 army men from Poonch participated in world war second, after which they were jobless. They then under the leadership of Muslim Conference leader Sardar Ibrahim Khan revolted against high prices and agriculture taxes.”

Which then resulted in the Jammu massacre and tribal raid. Even, Pakistan tribals were recruited by communists from Pakistan too. Public intellectual Eqbal Ahmad who fought Kashmir’s first war and was with the tribals was introduced to communism by noted communist Latif Afghani during this event only. Stuart Schaar in his book “ Eqbal Ahmad, Critical outsider in a turbulent age” quotes his daughter Dohra and writes about these things. CPI negates all these events.” 

Also, veteran CPI leader G Adhikari on 16 November 1947, in People’s age wrote “Democrats in Pakistan must demand to their government to stop unofficial help to the raiders, so they are forced to leave Kashmir”.

It was during this period only that Kashmiri communists G.M Sadiq and Peer Ghayassuddin organized voluntary armed forces called National Militia against raiders.  Communists under the presidency of G M Sadiq formed a propaganda literary and cultural organization called “Cultural Front” with Justice Jia Lal Kilam, Mahjoor, Abdul Rahim Rahat as Vice Presidents and Dina Nath Nadim as General Secretary Makhdoom Mohiuddin, Ali Sardar Jafri, Balraj Sahini, S.S  Chauhan and other communists writers were regular visitors to the front events and functions.

Cultural Front was later named as Cultural Congress and then Cultural Conference. Author and literary critic Ghulam Nabi Khayal discusses in detail communist propaganda in his book “Progressive Literary Movement In Kashmir”.  Newspapers like Noor, Nai Lahar, Kong Posh and Azad were started for the same purpose.  It was during this period only that prominent communist leader BPL Bedi headed the Counter propaganda department and his wife Freda Bedi worked for the “State Text Book Committee” to prepare books up to tenth class.

This shows how communists worked in Kashmir.  The Sheikh’s rule from 1947-1953 was known for authoritarianism, curbing of dissent and no right to speech, expression etc. Instead of criticizing Sheikh’s regime on these things, they supported and worked closely with him. Radical Land reforms of NC too were influenced by communism and CPI leaders used to regularly meet NC leaders. They praised reforms barring AK Ghosh who said “Land reforms are good on paper only”.

When India took Kashmir’s case to United Nations and UN passed a resolution of an impartial plebiscite, CPI criticized the United Nations’ interference in Kashmir instead of supporting Kashmir’s “Right to Self Determination”.

Also, Soviet Rusian always vetoed the Kashmir resolution in the UN because Pakistan signed Baghdad Pact and joined SEATO which in Soviet Russia’s argument Pakistan joined the Cold war. Soviet Russia has been the largest supplier of ammunition to India.

Jacob Malik-Soviet delegate at the U.N said, “The U.S and U.K are continuing as to interfere in the settlement of Kashmir question, putting one plan after the another… All these plans are failing…..as (they are) of an annexationist imperialist nature, because they are not based on effort to achieve real settlement of the Kashmir question….the purpose of these plans is interference by the U.N’s in the internal affairs of Kashmir, the prolongation of the dispute between India and Pakistan on the question of Kashmir and conversion of Kashmir into a protectorate of the U.S and U.K”. He added “Finally, the purpose of these plans is to ensure the introduction of Anglo-American troops into the territory of Kashmir and convert Kashmir into an Anglo-American colony and military and strategic base. The problem can be solved if the status of Kashmir is determined by a constituent assembly-democratically elected by the Kashmiri people.”  In December 1952, Mr V Zoerin Soviet representative at the security council condemned U.N interference in Kashmir, calling it Anglo-American imperialist policy on Kashmir.

On 30 August, CPI observed Kashmir day and passed a resolution for the expulsion of UN representatives from Kashmir and create an environment to make Kashmir’s accession to India final and vehemently supported that the best interest of the people of Kashmir is to be with India. Later, in 1955 Khrushev and Bulganin (first secretary Soviet Communist Party’s central committee and Soviet premier) visited Kashmir. A river procession was taken in honour of them. They supported the Indian position on Kashmir and not the  Right to self-determination though Stalin and Mao had called Nehru “expansionist ” and “Labdog of imperialism”.

When Sheikh Abdullah was dismissed unconstitutionally and undemocratically, CPI supported this dismissal too. They called Kashmir’s independence reactionary and accused Sheikh of handing Kashmir to warmongers and threatening peace.

CPI’s Politbereau gave this statement on it, “ The dismissal of Sheikh Abdullah by Sadri Riyasat and the formation of New Kashmir government has come as the culmination of recent developments in Kashmir. Since Adlai Stevenson’s visit there, Sheikh fell in love with the American intelligence and came out for an independent Kashmir to be generated by the UN and US”.

On 26 January 1958, CPI gave a statement to New Age, “Sheikh Abdullah’s talk about the freely expressed will amount to mostly but repeating the argument of Macmillans and Dullesses and their stooges”. 

Before Sheikh’s dismissal, socialist leader Ram Manohar Lohia had written a letter to Nehru for the removal of Sheikh as the greatest hindrance to Kashmir.

One of the most important communist leaders from the erstwhile J&K state was Comrade Dhanwantri, a colleague of Bhagat Singh and founding member Hindustan Socialist Republican army who was in jail for 17 years.

He too took the Indian position on Kashmir and is on record to have said “Kashmir is safe with India only”.  It was under his mentorship that Jammu and Kashmir Democratic youth league was formed with Peer Gayasuddin as chairman and Comrade Krishan Dev Sethi as president.

Baba Sohan Singh Banka (communist leader and founding member Ghadar party and was in 20 years in jail) and Prof. Hiren Singh (deputy leader CPI) came to inaugurate it.  It later supported Bakshi and supported Sheikh’s dismissal. Peer Gayassuddin and GM Malik started a propaganda paper “Mashal” under his patronage.

When later Democratic National Conference was formed by the members of Bakshi’s National Conference who accused Bakshi of corruption. Democratic youth league merged with it. DNC had communist and communist sympathizing members. GM Sadiq, Comrade Krishan Dev Sethi and Ram Piara Saraf were made president, vice president and general secretary respectively. Comrade Krishan Dev Sethi writes about it in detail in his memoir “Yaad I Rafta”. “It stood for India in Kashmir. When after some time Sadiq joined back Bakshi’s NC on the guidelines of the Central government, DNC was disbanded with some members joining Bakshi’s NC and some J&K branches of CPI with Ram Piara Saraf heading it. RP Saraf became the first from J&K to become a national council member of CPI.

After the Naxalite movement in India, some Kashmiri communists started the “Revolutionary Youth Front”. They fought for Kashmir’s right to self-determination. The movement couldn’t sustain because of Kashmir’s contempt for Godless ideology. The leaders of the movement like M Yusuf Tarigami (who later became a key player of CPIM in J&K), Prof Gulshan Majeed, Prof Shafi Shoq and Chaman Lal Kotroo were jailed for a minimum of two years later. Later, when militancy erupted in Kashmir communists became targets. One of the first politicians killed during militancy was poet and communist leader and founding member of the party Sattar Ranjoor.

“it has nothing to do with Pakistan”

Contrary to the positions the communist movement has taken elsewhere, in Kashmir, the movement has connived with the power at multiple levels barring the revolutionary left who since 1967 has stood for Kashmir’s “Right to Self-determination”.

Even their ideologue ” Kobad Gandhy” in his autobiography writes that “Kashmir dispute is between India and Kashmir, it has nothing to do with Pakistan” which simply shows his vague understanding of the Kashmir issue.

The trajectory of the movement stands testimony to the hoodwinking that has been done in the name of upholding the commitment to the sovereignty of India. Throughout the political history of Kashmir, CPI, CPIM and CPI-ML have maintained a relationship of convenience with the central powers and helped in obliterating the narratives of people’s movement in Kashmir.

Faizaan Bhat is an independent researcher based in Kashmir. He has written for Outlook India, The Wire, Greater Kashmir etc